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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"The fines ferry companies now face are now rocketing"
 real 56k

Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 15:50 GMT
P&O to start immigrant checks
Illegal immigrants at Dover
The P&O checks are a response to hauliers' concerns
Britain's largest ferry company has announced that every lorry boarding its vessels bound for Dover will be checked for illegal immigrants.

P&O Stena Line, which has been fined 100,000 in the past eight months because of stowaways, is hiring security guards to check vehicles around the clock at Calais.

Innocent people will not object to being checked in this way

P&O's Russ Peters

Forty guards will be employed in France to check the 750,000 lorries which use its ferries each year.

The company says it is responding to the concerns of hauliers over the security of their vehicles prior to embarkation at Calais.

Special detectors

When the groundbreaking scheme begins on Wednesday, all lorries will be checked by guards using a carbon dioxide gas detector which can trace human breath inside the vehicles.

Any suspected illegal immigrant found by the guards - employees of French security company Secur-Nord - will be handed over to the French authorities.

The ferry company says drivers who refuse screening will not be allowed to travel.
P&O managing director Russ Peters
Russ Peters: "We had to do something"

Managing director of P & O Stena Line, Russ Peters, told BBC News 24 the company and its haulage customers were both suffering because of the large fines being imposed due to stowaways.

He said: "We felt we had to do something. Innocent people will not object to being checked in this way.

"Our haulage customers will be grateful for what we are doing."

Hauliers and ferry companies are liable for a fine of 2,000 for each illegal immigrant found, and there are currently 300 penalty cases against freight companies going through the UK courts.

Suspicious vehicles

Mr Peters said 99% of the ferry company's tourist customers would not be affected by the move, although vans may be liable for checks.
A lorry being searched
The search for stowaways will be dramatically stepped up

The company's operations director Tony Marsh said: "We are also going to profile high-risk vehicles, transport companies which have not used us before, cash customers, last-minute turn-ups as well as suspicious vans and camper vans.

"We are determined to make this work, and, hopefully we will be able to seriously reduce the number of immigrants coming over."

Between 6,000 and 7,000 asylum seekers try to enter Britain every month. In July more than 700 people were found in one check at Calais.

Stowaways increasing

Just two weeks ago 43 illegal immigrants from 10 different countries were discovered hidden under the tarpaulins of three German-registered lorries on the M20 in Kent.

On 18 June, 58 Chinese people were found suffocated to death by shocked customs officials at the port.

Geoff Dossetter, of the Freight Transport Association said he welcomed P&O's move in the absence of intervention from European governments.

He said: "Fining drivers is not solving the problem at all. Since April the numbers of stowaways there are finding has increased - it's simply not working.

"So in the absence of the government being willing to take this sort of action it is very welcome."

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See also:

20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese gangs' cruel trade
19 Jun 00 | Europe
Trafficking: A human tragedy
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